Looking over the Bancroft Pioneer from 1858

Published 9:15 am Friday, April 2, 2010

Somewhere along the way I’ve encountered a term called gray matter, which may be in part intended to define a newspaper page with all type or print and no photos or illustrations. Today, thankfully, not too many newspapers use this all-print style for their editions. Yet, the three copies of the Bancroft Pioneer on the new microfilm reel at the Freeborn County Historical Museum Library sure stresses this gray matter concept.

One detail I noticed right away in those 1858 copies of the Bancroft Pioneer were the small ads placed by stores and business activities located in several nearby towns. Besides the Comfort Store in Bancroft, there were ads from Freeborn, Itasca City, Sumner, Albert Lea, Shell Rock City, Fairfield, St. Nicholas and Otranto. One the ads was for the United States Hotel at the corner of Lake and Fifth Streets in Freeborn and another was for the Webber House, an Albert Lea hotel at the corner of Broadway and Main.

Let’s do some further explanations. Comfort was the last name of the owner of one of the Bancroft stores. In fact, the full name of the place was Comfort’s Cheap Cash Store. The towns of Itasca City, Sumner, Fairfield and St. Nicholas no longer exist. (However, the name of Itasca is still used for an area northwest of Albert Lea.) Shell Rock City or Shell Rock had a name change to Glenville to avid confusion for the railroad crews with Shell Rock, Iowa. And Otranto is still a barely there town in Mitchell County, Iowa, about three miles southwest of Lyle.

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As I tried to stress in the last column, and will really emphasize in the next column, David Blakely was the owner, publisher, editor, typesetter and printer of the Bancroft Pioneer from October 1857 to early fall of 1958. In the issue of July 29, 1858, he placed this notice:

At this office, in payment for back subscriptions — or future ones — Provisions of all kinds, Pork, flour, corn, potatoes, eggs, hams, shoulders, &c., &c., will be received at current rates in exchange for the PIONEER. Please bear this fact in mind, and remember the Printer’s needs before any body’s else, of course!”

There may be a few grammatical errors in this notice, but this is exactly the way it was printed. I might add that this gives real meaning to the concept of barter and the “will work for food” slogan. Incidentally, the subscription price for the Pioneer was $2 a year, payment in advance. I have absolutely no idea as to how its was delivered to the subscribers.

Blakely had another sideline. In the March 11, 1858, issue he placed this announcement:

“The Proprietor of the Pioneer being himself a Practical Printer, and having selected a large assortment of the newest styles of type, is prepared to execute, in the neatest and most expeditious manner, every variety of Book and Job Printing. Bills, Posters, Blanks, Cards, Ball Tickets, &c., printed on short notice and at low rates.”

I also have no idea as to what ball tickets were. They may have been dance tickets.

A portion of the Pioneer was headlined as “The Farmer and his Fireside.” It was obviously intended for the mostly rural settlers out on the Minnesota frontier 152 years ago. One of the publication’s articles under this heading was based on the somewhat controversial topic in that era of using oxen or horses for farm work. Anyway, this article and other information in the all-print (gray matter) Pioneer gave those early farm families something to read and discuss during the evenings by their firesides.

In one of the three copies of the Pioneer on the museum’s new microfilm, Blakely describes a trip he took to the then-small settlement named Austin. His route by either buggy or horseback was directly east from Bancroft by way of Sumner in the south end of Moscow Township to Austin and back to Freeborn County.

There was something rather prophetic about his trip to Mower County. We’ll explain more about this detail in the next column.

Ed Shannon’s column has appeared in the Tribune every Friday since December 1984.